Jessica Hinerangi


(Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2023). ISBN 978 1 86940 991 3. RRP $29.95. 75pp

Ānana! He pukapuka toikupu tuatahi tino kaha nā Jessica Hinerangi.

Wow! What a powerful first book of poetry by Jessica Hinerangi.

In this collection, āria refers to a deep pool of water in between two land masses, and this is the direct connotation as to what is incorporated here. This title straight away intimates that there is a potential bifurcate vision swimming through these pages, and indeed there is.

Āria is also of course a solo voice in opera, but that is a later transliterated version of the English-Italian word aria, and is not the application referred to here. Or maybe it is.

Hinerangi depicts themself as caught between the two worlds of their heritage – te ao Pākehā rāua ko te ao Maōri – and sometimes does find considerable difficulty at reconciling them. As revealed by the following quotes:

I am lodged into a space, two realms, like a cooking utensil between the oven and the fridge. (“Tangi Hotuhotu”, p.21)

I see me, Pākehā and Māori, looking for my place on the whānau tree. (“Dear Tūpuna 2”, p.43)

the muirs of Scotland merged
with the hills of Hokianga. (“Wewete”, p.45)

However, the poet is both forcefully aware and wary of the historical and contemporaneous breaches of Te Tīriti o Waitangi by Pākehā across Aotearoa, as so vividly depicted in the poem “Reading Ranginui Walker in rāhui” (p.33), where we encounter:

Uncles locked in white stone,
jailed for protest, Ngāpuhi rebels,
influenza epidemics, and the classroom hidings from
men of God who gave us muzzle-loaded
guns while preaching love and light.

In such excerpts as those above and especially in the one following, Hinerangi emphatically echoes Tusiata Avia and Alice Te Punga Somerville in their respective decimations of Captain James Cook. Indeed, if there was room in this review, I would include the entire piece titled Spitting on the statue of Captain Cook, such is its vituperative voice, whereafter adumbrating the entrenched and ongoing ignorance of Pākehā attitudes towards Māori, when it culminates with these lines:

I walk back to you
despite my stress, and going against what tīkanga I was raised by
(to not spit in public)
I release 381 years of fury, self-doubt and resentment,
in one thick, silvery, wad.

Watch your step when you walk past because it’s still there,
clinging to the stone. (p.31)

Accordingly, Hinerangi is an angry poet. Their riri pervades almost every page, as does the sheer mamae of being Māori. The two are symbiotic: anguish breeds anger, acrimony increases angst. Both precipitate a desire for utu, as exemplified by these excerpts:

planning the revolution (“Slumber party”, p.25)

you are the utu
they didn’t see coming. (“Utu”, p.26)

Little do they know I’m
rising, rising, working
tirelessly at their game. (“Māori spy”, p.34)

All these eddies of emotions are vicariously depicted across such lines as:

There is violence in me. There is rage. There is shame, (“Dear Tūpuna 1”, p.13)

I want to decolonise my body…
I want to decolonise my mouth…
I want to decolonise my wairua…
I want to decolonise my eyes…
I want to decolonise my skin… (“Wewete”, p.45)

The self-doubt won’t ever leave. (“Dear Tūpuna 3”, p.63)

However, well before the end of this collection, Hinerangi, aka The Māori Mermaid, has made it clear that they have plunged into the deep pool that is the āria, inside the mighty awa o te ao Māori, and that they will remain there steadfastly swimming against any unleashed currents from te ao Pākeha attempting to drown them. The poet has a consistent dialogue with their tūpuna throughout the three subdivisions of this book, and this seeking and beseeching of tūpuna (a kupu I counted as recurring at least eleven times) is the springboard for their ultimate deep leap into this āria. As here:

be receptive to your tūpuna
be receptive to your tūpuna. (“Late night marae”, p.62)

To emphasise once and for all that,
I know what I am.
I know who I am
I am Māori enough (“I whakapapa, therefore I am”, p.53)

Thus completely abnegating their earlier pathos, whereby:

Whiteness makes Māoriness feel so thin and frail sometimes (“Dear Tūpuna 1”, p.14)

Hinerangi establishes themself once and for all as a formidable new voice in Aotearoa New Zealand literature. This collection becomes more than the areal exploration of an āria; it is an existential aria expressed explosively by tēnei reo kōtike Māori across the global stage.

The visceral image below marks once and for all the destination and destiny of this fine poet:

I want to become the root raised
from the wet dirt, broken
through the concrete path,
to trip everyone up,
the exposed truth of a tree  (“Wewete”, p.45)

Vaughan Rapatahana


Vaughan Rapatahana (Te Ātiawa) commutes between Hong Kong, the Philippines and Aotearoa. His work, in te
reo Māori and English, has been translated into Bahasa Malaysia, Italian, French, Mandarin, Romanian and Spanish.

Works Published